Oh Cambodia. Where do I begin?
With your welcoming, laid back people? Your beautiful, rugged landscape? I think i’ll start simple with the capital, Phnom Penh.
When we finally arrived in Phnom Penh it was much later than we originally planned, but packed dirt roads don’t make for the swiftest travel. The border crossing was about as official as my elementary school graduation. Lots of herding and nods and instructions which we didn’t understand since we don’t speak Khmer. When we did finally arrive in the former ‘Pearl of Asia’ it was already dark. Oh, no worries, we’ll just follow the directions I got from our hostel and be there in no time! Welllll. Insert fart noise here. It would have been helpful if the bus dropped us off at the place they were supposed to, but instead we got dropped off God knows where and thus began our journey through the darkened, mostly deserted, except for the occasional fat city rat (Is that you Master Splinter?!), streets of Phnom Penh. After some help from a nice gas station attendant and a hotel clerk, (although since i’m being honest, I’m pretty sure the hotel clerk was trying to get us to take his friend’s Tuk Tuk by telling us the hostel was much too far away to walk. He clearly underestimates my stubborn cheapness.) we finally found the central market right by our hostel. We only wandered by ourselves for about an hour. No biggie.
The owner of the hostel was nice if a little, ok a lot, chatty. Look dude, It is past midnight. I’m sure you and your wife have a lovely marriage, but honestly all I care about right now is getting to my room so I can put this giant backpack down. We were very ready to fall onto the comfy floor mattresses and surround ourselves with mosquito nets. What else can a gal ask for? No, seriously. Our first night in Cambodia ended with a night cap (naturally) on the porch connected to the dorm room. A quick night cap turned into a much longer one when we accidentally locked ourselves out onto the porch. Smooth. In our defense how were we supposed to know that a gust of wind would move the door and the bottom lock would fall into place!? Cue us sitting on the floor for the next 20 minutes, drinking the rest of the whiskey J lugged all the way with him from Hue, Vietnam, and wiggling our fingers underneath the door trying to pry up the door lock. This would be more funny if we had to wake up our hostel mates that we hadn’t met yet to let us in, but luckily I have nimble fingers.
The next day we continued our oh so fun “tour of sadness”. We set off for the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng S-21 Prison Museum. We hopped a tuk tuk with two others from our hostel and held on tight while we bumped and jostled up and down back alleys and dirt roads, passing people and heard animals alike. It was clear we made it to our destination by the sheer number of tuk tuks amassed in one location. Tickets for the audio tour of the killings fields really broke the bank at $6. One of the first things you see when you begin the audio tour is the large building in the middle of the field containing a countless number of skulls of people who died there. Needless to say, it isn’t exactly a fun-filled afternoon.
However, I found the tour to be informative and interesting, and i’m really glad that we went. I didn’t know much about the Cambodian genocide. In fact, I think many people are still unaware that they ever happened. Everyone was too focused on the neighboring war in Vietnam to realize that in a few short years millions of Cambodians were killed. It is a good thing to learn as much as you can about the atrocities that happen in this world. After all, those who do not learn history are bound to repeat it, right? Too bad learning about history doesn’t actually mean you won’t still repeat it. Countless wars are brutal evidence of that.
We then made the tuk tuk journey to the Tuol Sleng S-21 Prison. Which is the kind of place that makes you painfully aware of just how lucky you are. This place was especially bad because not only was it a prison where they tortured people for information, but it used to be a high school. It is cruelly ironic that a place that once fostered education was then used as a place to imprison anyone who had any education at all. There was a movie that you could watch at the prison that was included in the ($3) admission price, but there is only so much death and pain that one can take in a day. Our tuk tuk driver asked if we wanted to go to the shooting range instead, but we declined. Call me crazy, but going to a shooting range after spending the whole morning bearing witness to so much violence really doesn’t appeal to me. I know, silly me right? The idea of shooting a bazooka did sorta sound fun (I mean… come on that is kinda cool) but then I found out that for $300 you can shoot a bazooka at a cow. That is wrong on so many levels. Please excuse the 90’s expression. There are people, people living in Cambodia even, who go to bed hungry at night and they are selling poor cows for tourists to blow up. I’m assuming that if you get your kicks by blowing up a cow you probably started killing small mammals as a child, and i’ll see you on the news in a few years time wearing a human skin suit from your latest victims. I kinda hope the cow gets loose and tramples you.
It was a market food kind of day and we hit both the central market for lunch and the night market for dinner. The central market for lunch was fantastic, even if our noodles looked vaguely worm-like.
The night market, on the other hand, was pretty deadly. I just know that when you gross out the Americans with your fried food, you have gone too far!
It was off to the riverbank for drinkies after dinner. One drink turned to two, then four, then six. What else can you do when the beers are $.75 each? I mean I guess you could go home but… nah i’m just joking. Who goes home early?! When we did finally go home we were down from 6 people to 3, and we decided to have one last goodnight beer at this little joint right by our hostel. We stepped into the bar and instantly went, ‘Oh, shit.’ What awaited us was 12 or so women at the back of the bar who cheered when we walked in. One of us should have probably noticed that this particular bar had blacked out windows. Oops. We figured it was better to just down one beer and get the hell out of dodge before we were in for more than we bargained for.
We left Phnom Penh the next morning. Not because our accidental brothel visit scared us off, but because Siem Reap was calling! And what a place! It may be my favorite place that we visited in SE Asia. It is a combination of tourism and culture that has been perfectly executed. Throw in a well placed Pub Street and make it impossibly cheap, and you get J and I staying for longer than we planned. In order to keep this from getting too long here is a quick recap of our 5 days (6 days? Things are a bit blurry) in Siem Reap.
Day 1: Arrive at our hostel, Angkor Wonder. Randomly run into a friend from Hangzhou at the same hostel. Freak out. Go get dinner and run into some Kiwis we met back in Hanoi, Vietnam. Freak out again. Go to the bar in the Drunken Monkey hostel. Scoff at frat boys playing beer pong with no shirts on (come on, there isn’t a beach anywhere close by). But secretly want to play beer pong too. Go to Pub Street and meet with Kiwis again. Buy $.50 beers. Buy 30 more $.50 beers. Try to decide which bar to go to next, the Angkor What?! Bar or the Temple Bar. Split the different and join the dance party in the middle of the street.
Day 2: Sleep in and seriously consider staying in the cloud-like beds all day. Decide not to be complete lazy slobs and walk around the city a bit. Realize Siem Reap isn’t that big, and have a fat kid before dinner snack of street pancakes. Then actually have dinner at the Temple Bar Balcony while watching the Apsara dance show. Go back to the $.50 beer bar. Drink more beers. Meet more people from Hangzhou. Freak out again. Buy 2 buckets from the Angkor What?! Bar and get a free T-shirt to wear with pride. Go back to the amazingly comfortable beds that, in truth, we had been thinking about all day.
Day 3: Sleep in again and miss going to the Temples. Make resolution to not go out and drink more beers tonight. Doubt that that will actually happen. Take a walk around the city, and purchase yummy treats. Eat said yummy treats. Get fish massage. Try not to squeal when the sucker fish attaches itself to the bottom of my toes. Get $3 head and shoulder massage. Have a fat kid dinner of pizza. Realize what they mean when they say ‘happy pizza’. Wonder if we may have actually gotten a ‘happy pizza’. Go in search of cheesecake. ‘Happy pizza’ seeming more possible. Buy snacks and watch Archer in hostel room. ‘Happy pizza’ a definite possibility.
Day 4: Actually get up for the Temples! Rent bikes for $1 and ride to the temple complex. Regret not taking a tuk tuk about an hour later when sweat is dripping from our faces. Tour the seemingly endless temples. Lose a few pounds of water weight from sweating. Climb on ancient temples. Argue with one another because we are tired then laugh about it. Climb on more temples. Ride bikes back to hostel and truly believe the ride is at least twice as long as when you first did it. Go get dinner of $4 steaks. Cry a little at how good it tastes. Consider going to bed early. Go back to the Drunken Monkey instead. Actually play beer pong. Win.
Day 5: Wake up in the late afternoon. Crave Mexican food. Find restaurant and, incidentally, people we met the night before. Eat nachos and margaritas while having a nice chat in the hot Cambodian sun. Wander through markets and haggle with shop keepers. Have dinner at the same restaurant of our first meal in Siem Reap. Reminisce. Go to Pub Street and meet lots of people from travels. South East Asia truly is a small world. Dance in middle of the street again. Buy more buckets. Have fun. Go home with a smile.
Day 6: Wake up early so we don’t miss our bus to Bangkok. Lose friend. Freak out. Find friend. Relax. Consider trying to steal the oh so soft mattresses. Get on bus and wave goodbye to Siem Reap.
There is so, so much more I want to say about Siem Reap. It really is an awesome city, and I hope to be able to go back again. In fact, Cambodia as a whole has definitely been added to my Round 2 travel list. It was more relaxed than Vietnam, more friendly than Thailand and just all around a good time. If anyone wants to consider going to South East Asia, definitely don’t cross Cambodia off the list because you heard it is corrupt etc. I’m not saying that it isn’t corrupt, but you should still go to experience it for yourself. If you go to Cambodia and don’t have fun plus spend lots of money your doing it wrong.
Until next time explorers, never forget:
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring!